The American Naturalist (2012) 179(2): 157-168; DOI: 10.1086/663685Benadi G, Blüthgen N, Hovestadt T, Poethke HJ.
Plant-pollinator networks are systems of outstanding ecological and economic importance. A particularly intriguing aspect of these systems is their high diversity. However, earlier studies have concluded that the specific mechanisms of plant-pollinator interactions are destabilizing and should lead to a loss of diversity. Here we present a mechanistic model of plant and pollinator population dynamics with the ability to represent a broad spectrum of interaction structures. Using this model, we examined the influence of pollinators on the stability of a plant community and the relationship between pollinator specialization and stability. In accordance with earlier work, our results show that plant-pollinator interactions may severely destabilize plant coexistence, regardless of the degree of pollinator specialization. However, if plant niche differentiation, a classical stabilizing mechanism, is sufficiently strong to overcome the minority disadvantage with respect to pollination, interactions with pollinators may even increase the stability of a plant community. In addition to plant niche differentiation, the relationship between specialization and stability depends on a number of parameters that affect pollinator growth rates. Our results highlight the complex effects of this particular type of mutualism on community stability and call for further investigations of the mechanisms of diversity maintenance in plant-pollinator systems.
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